Sunday, March 16, 2014

Technique to increase the “good” emotions and their corresponding hormones

Stress for Success

March 18, 2014, Week 448

Brain science is exploding. We’re learning more and more about how to regulate stress, emotions and hormones through, what I call, Brain Training techniques, since these functions are part of how the brain operates. There are many researchers touting these skills. One I will quote is “Heart Math,” ( Based on their extensive research, they present a very simple approach to increasing the emotions associated with the hormone DHEA, which helps regulate and suppress the necessary yet potentially damaging stress hormone, Cortisol.

Before I get into this research, let me remind you that I’ve admitted in the past that I have had an odd awareness of my stress response, the fight/flight, since early childhood. Over the decades my awareness became stronger and eventually more academic, having taken many courses over the years to keep up with the growing body of research.

Over the decades, I came to the conclusion that to change anything about myself, from ending some truly unhealthy eating habits to quitting smoking, my own fight/flight response had to be tamed. So I devised many little tricks to do so ranging from deep breathing to what I call “Mind Games.” These enabled me to stop my automatic (fight/flight) reactions by creating a “space of time” between a stressor and my automatic reaction to it. Eventually, this space of time allowed me to bring in the response I’d decided was my preferred. My husband has often marveled at my ability to change many a bad habit and defensive reactions over the years.

Now much reliable research explains why my own strategies and those of many others can work. Here’s the basic explanation from Heart Math’s “Transforming Stress”.

Heart Math explains the connection between emotions and the hormones they trigger through what they call “Emotional Landscape.” They position four “types” of emotions categorized as:
·         High energy emotions: Anger, hostility, impatience, etc., and happy, motivated, creative, etc.
·         Low energy emotions: Bored, lethargic, hopeless, etc., and calm, content, relaxed, etc.
·         Emotions accompanied by cortisol, which in too high amounts over a long enough period of time lead you to be vulnerable to illness and disease development: Anger, hostility, impatience, bored, lethargic, hopeless, etc.
·         Emotions accompanied by DHEA: Happy, motivated, creative, calm, content, relaxed, etc.

Heart Math’s first approach to calming down the emotions associated with cortisol is a   breathing technique called, “Neutral Step.” Here are the three steps:
1.    Focus for a few seconds on the physical heart in your chest;
2.    Then inhale and exhale evenly to the count of 4 or 5 and imagine that your heart is doing the breathing (don’t ask me why);
3.    Repeat for several rounds;

Since I’ve been doing my own version of breathing and Mind Games for so long, I can’t attest personally to the effectiveness of this strategy. However, I’ve heard many, many people’s stories about how this simple technique has allowed them to deal more effectively with their daily challenges. Here are some examples from workshop participants:
·         Approaching home after work, seeing nothing picked up off the yard as requested that morning, and breathing to calm down to decide consciously how to respond in a way that gets the best results versus automatically blowing up.
·         Others testify to how much better they sleep doing this breathing exercise in bed at night to calm their overly busy brains.
·         Others have said the skills they had learned in other workshops, like dealing with conflicts, were only now being successfully used because they calm themselves down first with the Neutral Step.

This Neutral Step is so easy and it doesn’t require will power, so why not try it? The reason I believe it works is because the regulated breathing is much deeper than the fight/flight breathing, which is shallower and faster. Taming your fight/flight allows you to change some of your emotional reactions you do not like. It’s really pretty simple.

In my next article I’ll address Brain Training techniques to divert blood flow in your brain away from your “fear center” to other areas to help balance you emotionally.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at  Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Too much stress depresses the helpful hormone DHEA

Stress for Success

March 4, 2014

What exactly is stress? There are multiple definitions:
·         Anything you perceive as a threat;
·         Your assessment of your ability to handle a challenge is less than you believe is required;
·         A perception of insufficient control;

No matter which definition you prefer, stress boils down to any situation or perception that triggers the cascade of fight/flight response stress hormones that pour through your body.

This stress response is very effective with short-term stressors like our ancestors faced with their life-threatening dangers. But modern stress tends to go on and on, like worry over your kids, deadlines or traffic.

How much stress you have can be measured in your body by the amount of the adrenal steroid hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is a necessary hormone and helps regulate many bodily functions from blood pressure to sleep. It’s released in reaction to any physical stress like illness and psychological problems like financial or marital ones. When cortisol is released it sets off a series of physical changes to prepare you to deal with (fight or flee) stressors including insuring your brain receives enough energy.

Your body regulates cortisol levels through an elaborate feedback loop, involving the pituitary and adrenal glands and the hypothalamus, which raise or lower other hormones accordingly.

Your body also has a balancing system to protect you through the excretion of the hormones cortisol and DHEA. These hormones serve as your body’s shock absorbers buffering stress and its negative impacts, according to Dr. Joseph A. Debé, Licensed Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist and Chiropractor.

DHEA, dehydroepiandrosterone, is the most abundant hormone in the bloodstream and it helps suppress cortisol. It is vital to health partly because it regulates many other hormones. DHEA is also a good stress barometer, because when stress goes up, DHEA goes down. It also decreases with age, peaking in your mid-20s then declining about 2% per year. You may begin to feel the effects of lower DHEA levels in your 40s.

The problem with these hormones is chronic stress. With normal day-to-day stress, your body produces more cortisol and DHEA. When the stress is over, your body returns both to normal resting levels and into balance again. However, chronic stress over time triggers increasingly more cortisol and less DHEA. And this doesn’t take long to occur. According to Dr. Debé, “One study showed after just 28 days of continuous stress, cortisol levels had climbed to 240% of starting values and DHEA had dropped to 15% of initial levels! What's even worse is that even after the stress was removed, the body sometimes didn’t recover and bring these hormones back to normal levels, but instead, the stress response remained with high cortisol and low DHEA output.”

Debé points to the consequences of elevated cortisol and reduced DHEA levels which he labels disturbing:
·         A compromised immune system: increased risk of infections, allergies, some cancers, and autoimmune diseases;
·         Glucose use and insulin function are altered producing higher blood sugar levels;
·         Salt and water are retained, with a possible result of higher blood pressure;
·         Blood cholesterol and triglycerides increase and can predispose you to heart disease;
·         Thyroid function becomes impaired, resulting in decreased metabolism, lowered body temperature, and reduced vitality;
·         The body stores fat, especially around the midsection;
·         Depression, insomnia, hunger, and can PMS result;
·         Reproductive function weakens possibly resulting in infertility and cessation of the menstrual cycle;
·         The combination of reduced R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) sleep and lowered growth hormone release at night diminishes mental and physical regeneration, which results in acceleration of the aging process;

Phew! Scary!

Not everyone will experience these effects. Your genetics and your daily lifestyle choices along with environmental factors greatly influence who experiences which symptoms.

If you have been overstressed for months, to bring about a healthier hormonal balance you must first normalize your adrenal activity. And the great news is you can begin to achieve this by using simple techniques to increase the emotions associated with DHEA and diminish the emotions associated with cortisol. That’s my next article.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at  Email her to request she speak to your organization at